Henry Clay Middle School names John B. Spencer Hall after teacher who has dedicated three decades to educating students
Never one to be nervous in the classroom, veteran teacher John Spencer was a bit anxious when he stepped on the campus of Henry Clay Middle School on Feb. 1, 2008. It was a day that would attest his 30-plus years of dedicated service to educating and mentoring inner-city students. Present and former students, parents and administrators gathered to celebrate the naming of the middle school’s auditorium in his honor—the John B. Spencer Hall. And one thing was clear, he is a man greatly loved and cherished by the community he serves.
Spencer grew up in Pascagoula, Mississippi and came to California while in his early 20s. He had aspirations of becoming a building contractor, yet went into the field of education instead. He hasn’t looked back since. For 33 years, he taught band at Henry Clay Middle School as well as led the cadet corps program and after-school youth services. He then moved on to George Washington Carver Middle School, where he has been teaching over the last two years.
“What keeps me coming back is knowing the needs of these students, knowing that there are very few people who can go out into the trenches and really hang in there with the kids who are at a very active age and crucial time in their lives,” Spencer said as he awaited the beginning of the ceremony. “They need a very strong person, but also a very concerned person, someone who is rough and tough but at the same time has love behind it... I am one of those people.”
Spencer says that the secret is to enjoy what you do. “While many people go into teaching because it’s something they want to do, it’s not really what they expect once they get into it,” he added. “You have to enjoy it, strive to be the best, and be persistent.”
With so many people in attendance to recognize his efforts, it’s obvious the level of enjoyment Spencer has reached.
Reginald Sample, class of 1987, commented, “In three decades this man has provided a safe haven for urban, inner-city youth who had no other place to turn besides the streets and mentored them by dedicating his personal time during countless nights and weekends to tutor, coach and mentor and require students to reach their maximum potential... He is known as the ‘one man walking program’ as a result of his multi-talents.
“As I reflect on this man’s accomplishments, I am pleased to know he has provided hope for past, present and future generations... He is the quintessential gentleman, warrior, pioneer, educator, mentor, surrogate father.”
Before receiving resolutions from LAUSD School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte and Gardena Councilman Stephen Brandford (one of Spencer’s former students), past administrators also spoke of their time with Spencer.
George Jones said, “When I was the new assistant principal at Henry Clay, the first thing I noticed about John was that his honesty, dedication and love for the students was just out there. Through the years, as I became principal, I really understood what John was all about... he is a super educator and a life-long friend.”
Clarence Clarkson, also a former assistant principal, added, “John always goes all out for young people so they can be prepared for the future. He teaches them values of trust confidence and respect. And, he remains dedicated to building character in our students.”
Lorraine Bradley, further commented, “We are all so much better because John has touched us.”
The entire afternoon was filled with congratulatory remarks and fond memories, while both the Clay and Carver Middle School bands performed and the Clay Middle School and Sophisticated High Steppers drill teams danced.
“Mr. Spencer is really deserving of this honor,” said Deborah Jackson-Smith, the committee chairperson who organized the ceremony. “I am just amazed at all that he’s done in life, and the amount people who have come to honor him are a testament to his efforts.”
She added, “And I couldn’t think of a better way to open Black History Month than naming our auditorium after Mr. Spencer.”